Waterfowl season is mostly over, except for a few scattered opportunities for goose hunting. The next hunting seasons are spring black bear and wild turkey. Applications for spring black bear permits …
Waterfowl season is mostly over, except for a few scattered opportunities for goose hunting. The next hunting seasons are spring black bear and wild turkey. Applications for spring black bear permits are due by midnight on Friday, Feb. 28. No special applications are needed for wild turkey.
I’m not much of a bear hunter, and throughout my career, have mostly had to deal with bears causing problems for people. I have had some wonderful meals with bear meat, including some that were smoked like ham, and an acquaintance baked excellent pies using bear lard for the crust, but my introduction to bear meat was rather memorable.
Long ago, in a boreal forest rather far away, a motley troupe of college students was living at a federal agency compound while working on a variety of wildlife projects: peregrine falcon reintroduction, moose and wolf studies and the routine wildlife field work that mostly involves counting things. Counting lots of things — poop, plant stems, the number of times a moose bit a twig off of a bush, poop, birds, tree seedlings, tracks, poop — all that glamorous biologist stuff.
As typical college students, we were poor and hungry, supplementing our small stipends by picking berries and catching fish. Our main opportunity for red meat was the road kill distribution program. Really. If a deer or moose got hit on the highway, the game warden would often butcher the animal and distribute the usable meat to needy folks in the county (that was us), and the more marginal pieces went to the sled dogs. Occasionally, the warden would have to kill a black bear that had become habituated to human food and came back after being trapped and moved. When a black bear made some poor life choices in our area, the warden did his job, and we ended up with a rather large chunk of bear meat that summer.
We gratefully accepted the hefty brown paper parcel and began planning how to cook this bounty of protein. Our pots and pans were mostly the size you would take backpacking, and trying to cook the meat in six tiny pots didn’t seem efficient. We did have access to a nice domed grill, and the roast (sounds more appetizing than chunk) would certainly fit in there. Grill on!
Our vague consensus for cooking bear meat was slow, moist cooking until well done. Saturday was the designated feast day, so we would have plenty of time for the slow-roasting process.
Midday Saturday, cooking began. Smoke drifted up from the grill vent, and it smelled good. It actually smelled great! We had passed the first test of consuming bear meat. The bear had not been eating a lot of fish, or some other rancid material that could have tainted the meat. We even sampled some tiny crispy slivers of roast, and it tasted wonderful. The group circled the grill like coyotes, salivating discreetly. When the meat thermometer showed the proper temperature, dinner was served.
Everybody started in on the roast. There were happy “yum” noises around the table. My first bite was tasty and surprisingly moist, and I chewed and chewed and … complete silence at the table, just chewing, looks of puzzlement, more chewing.
In my mouth, that one bite kept getting bigger. I kept chewing. Looks of panic around the table. More chewing. That single bite of meat was even bigger. Strained swallowing, eyes bulging. Then the group erupted into laughter, coughing, spitting and swearing. The meat tasted good, but it was beyond tough. It did not get smaller, no matter how long you chewed. It actually got bigger to a point, and then just did not change. We had produced bear bubble gum!
But we were not going to give up on that roast. We were hungry. The main method that evening became cutting off a tiny piece and swallowing it whole. Chewing only made it worse.
We borrowed a crockpot. After slow cooking for about 36 hours, the roast could be eaten with a normal amount of chewing. We ate every morsel of that roast, but we made sure the game warden didn’t bring us any more bear meat. Ever. All the bear meat I’ve eaten since then has been much better, but I can’t help thinking about that bear bubble gum when I hear that bear is on the menu.
(Retired U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Beth Kennedy was a hunter education instructor for both firearm and bowhunter safety for more than 20 years.)